Centralized Logging for Node.js Apps

Node.js gained popularity as an open-source JavaScript framework for modern dynamic applications. This memory-efficient framework supports single-threaded, non-blocking, asynchronous programming. Like many other frameworks, Node.js offers simplified logging and has dedicated logging libraries and methods, which all have their pros and cons. For first time users, it’s not easy to decide which logging method is best for their applications. As organizations have multiple applications and complex hybrid cloud environments, they need modern tools for real-time monitoring and actionable intelligence. In this blog, we’ll discuss how teams can simplify Node.js logging using centralized log management tools.

Node.js Logging Basics

The simplest way to start Node.js logging is with its console module, which writes all log messages to stderr (standard error) and stdout (standard output) by using the error and log functions. While the built-in module is simple to implement, it doesn’t offer any controls over the printing of log messages to the console; they’ll appear as soon as an event occurs. Lack of logging levels also makes the application logs noisy. The debug module solves some of the challenges involved in console-based Node.js logging. It’s a small JavaScript, which can switch logging on or off when using the console.log. However, logging libraries provide an even better approach for logging Node.js applications.

Logging Libraries

Logging libraries like Winston offer easier logging implementation and better control over Node.js logs. With Winston, one can use custom log formats and send log messages to their desired destination. It also offers logging levels to categorizes log messages by their severity (debug, error, warn, etc.). This useful logging feature allows developers to reduce noise and focus on only log messages useful for troubleshooting. They can use Winston transports to send critical messages to their log viewer or log analyzer and the rest to the console. Bunyan is another common logging library for Node.js applications, which can help in converting logs into JSON format, a standard logging format supported by a wide range of log monitoring solutions.

Why Use Centralized Log Management Tools?

The application logs contain critical information to help developers detect and resolve performance and security issues. They can configure alerts to respond early and prevent application downtimes. Moreover, by correlating multiple logs over time, developers can detect trends and patterns, which can help in predicting future events. However, all this is possible only when developers use advanced tools to collect and analyze a large volume of logs. Individual application logs can only tell so much; it’s important to collect all associated logs from supporting infrastructure, services, and third-party APIs to stay on top of application health and performance. In modern microservices and container-based application environments, collecting logs in a centralized location for unified analysis becomes even more important.

This is why most organizations use centralized log management tools. With these tools, developers can monitor all their log messages in real-time over a common window, instead of logging in to different console windows for the purpose. The tools make it easier to gain actionable intelligence from the text logs and simplify log management significantly. With logs collected reliably in one place, teams can easily control their access, rotation, retention, and archiving.

How to Select a Tool for Node.js Logging

As discussed, centralized log management tools can help you make the most of application logs. However, selecting the right log management tool isn’t easy, as organizations need to consider various factors. They need to choose between various open-source and commercial options.

Many organizations prefer the flexibility of open-source solutions as they can configure a setup as per their logging needs. The Elastic Stack, consisting of tools like Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana (ELK) is one such solution. However, all these tools have evolved over the years and require significant expertise to configure and make them work in tandem. Further, teams may have to include additional tools for log persistence and archival. Installing the Elastic Stack on a cloud can lead to high costs, which are not clearly visible at the beginning of implementation to most organizations.

On the other hand of the spectrum, there are various commercial log management tools, some of which are also ELK-based. Many of these tools target large enterprises offering advanced features for security information and event management (SIEM), AIOps, DevSecOps, and more. Some tools also offer end-to-end application performance monitoring combining logs, metrics, and traces. Organizations need to consider their application monitoring requirements and the performance impact of monitoring agents on their applications before selecting a solution. However, if you’re only looking for a simple and lightweight log management solution, you should try out SolarWinds® Papertrail, a cloud-based log management tool to help collect logs from a wide range of sources for real-time monitoring.

screenshot of solarwinds papertrail showing heroku logs

You can typically set up Papertrail within a few minutes and start tailing Node.js logs over its event viewer. The event viewer formats all log messages and makes them clickable. With clickable elements in a log message (e.g., IP address, request ID, error code, etc.), it’s easier to filter and search messages. The event viewer is highly intuitive, supports auto-scroll, color-coding, and seek by time features. The live feed of log messages can be paused and resumed with the click of a button. Further, one can search through a large volume of logs using familiar search queries and search operators. Papertrail also saves important searches, and teams can create alerts around critical events. These alerts can be forwarded to an email or any other messaging tool like Slack, PagerDuty, and more. With these and many other features, Papertrail makes it easier for developers to monitor their logs and troubleshoot issues faster. You can get a free trial of Papertrail to evaluate its features.

Conclusion

We’ve discussed why teams should use centralized logging solutions for monitoring Node.js applications and how to select a log management tool based on their logging needs. We recommend Papertrail for most common and advanced logging needs, as it’s a simple yet powerful solution purpose-built for developers’ log management needs. Get a free trial of Papertrail now.